Trafficking in persons

Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and constitutes a serious violation of human rights. No country is immune from trafficking in persons, be it as a source, transit or destination country for victims. Trafficking in persons can take many forms, included, but not limited to, sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, removal of organs or child marriage.

UNODC is devoted to ensuring States have the knowledge, skills and commitment to effectively prevent and address trafficking in persons while protecting victims' rights. Grounded in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and in line with international human rights law, UNODC promotes the development of comprehensive legal frameworks, and the collection of reliable data that inform policies as well as technical assistance. UNODC has in particular carried out research on victims' rights to inform relevant country policies, with for example an Issue Paper on the Role of Consent in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol. UNODC supports a strong victim-centered approach to anti-trafficking responses by law enforcement, and policies that do not negatively affect the human rights of victims and witnesses. UNODC also encourages cooperation and the exchange of good practices to establish stronger criminal justice systems in which victims' voices are heard, cases investigated, perpetrators brought to justice and victims awarded remedy and reparation. 

Additionally, UNODC manages a UN Voluntary Trust Fund for the Victims of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which provides direct humanitarian, legal and financial aid to victims.

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Smuggling of migrants

Smuggling of migrants is a transnational crime generating significant economic returns by circumventing migration laws. However, it can have terrible consequences for those who are smuggled: thousands of migrants die every year during smuggling activities. In addition, smuggled migrants are vulnerable to different human rights abuses and crimes during their journey. In this context, our research [1] reports frequent rape, theft, kidnapping, extorsion and trafficking in persons. Smuggled migrants might also be held in detention for prolonged periods, in conditions that can amount to torture and ill-treatment. Very often, they face discriminatory or abusive treatment, and might not get the protection and assistance needed in transit or at destination.

UNODC supports States in their implementation of the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the UNTOC. The criminalization of migrant smuggling promoted by the Protocol does not aim at criminalizing migrants but prosecuting those who smuggle others for gain. UNODC thus supports the capacity strengthening of criminal justice practitioners in effectively dismantling criminal networks and bringing perpetrators to justice. In doing so, UNODC insists on a strong rights-based approach to law enforcement that keeps protection and assistance to migrants at its core, irrespective of their status and prioritizes rights and safety of migrants who fall victim to crimes. UNODC also encourages States to allow smuggled migrants to benefit from all the rights they are entitled to, including the right to access justice and remedy, in accordance with human rights law.  Additionally, UNODC promotes the respect of the principle of non-refoulement, a customary international law principle that prevents States from returning any person to a place where they would be at risk of torture or persecution.

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Illicit trafficking in firearms

Illicit firearms trafficking and misuses represent a serious threat to peace and security and an obstacle to the achievement of sustainable development. While the crimes of illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts and components and ammunition do not cause immediate victims, illicit weapons undermine development and their misuse poses a serious challenge to the right to security of persons - ranging from high levels of individual physical insecurity (domestic violence, street, gang and criminal violence and terrorism) to large-scale armed conflicts, in which these arms enable widespread violence and account for the majority of deaths.

UNODC, guided by the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, assists Member States in building adequate criminal justice systems to effectively respond to the challenges posed by organized criminality specifically related to the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts and components and ammunition. The Office promotes integrated approaches that combine preventive and regulatory measures, aimed at ensuring adequate controls over the manufacturing, transfer and movement of firearms throughout their life time, to prevent their illicit manufacturing, theft, diversion, trafficking and misuse. In this process, it promotes the rule of law by fostering a human rights-based approach and the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights at all levels of its work, particularly in its legislative assistance activities and in the context of its training sessions to detect, investigate and prosecute firearms trafficking and related crimes.

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Wildlife and forest crime

Besides generating significant losses in assets and revenues for many developing countries, the theft of and illegal trade in natural resources potentially threatens biodiversity and endangered species, and also the livelihood of rural communities, and even national security. Today, transnational wildlife and forest crime is one of the largest organized criminal activities. Wildlife and forest crime is particularly acute in developing countries, as under-resourced governments often lack the capacity to regulate the exploitation of their natural resources. Rather than promoting economic progress, poorly managed natural wealth can result in poor governance, corruption, and even conflict, with potentially dire impacts on human rights.

Guided by the UNTOC and UNCAC, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, UNODC  promotes the fight against the illegal trade in wildlife and forest products at three levels: prevention, enforcement and livelihoods. UNODC provides capacity building support to source, transit, and destination countries of wildlife and forest trafficking, including specialized training and support to rangers, police, customs, prosecutors, investigators, and the judiciary, as well as strengthens inter-agency and cross-border cooperation. UNODC also promotes alternative livelihoods that can sustain and benefit development across affected states, based on the principles of shared responsibility and human rights.


Falsified medical products

Falsified medical products pose a considerable public health threat as they can fail to cure, may harm and even kill patients, therefore constituting an obstacle to the right to health.  Compounding this public health risk is the fact that the supply chain for medicines operates at a global level, and therefore, a concerted effort at the international level is required to effectively detect and combat the introduction of fraudulent medicines along this supply chain.

UNODC strengthens the capacity of Member States to address the illicit manufacture and trafficking of fraudulent medicines in coordination with other stakeholders, thereby promoting the right to health.

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Maritime crime

Acts of piracy and maritime crime threaten maritime security by endangering the welfare of seafarers and the security of navigation and commerce. These criminal acts may result in the loss of life, physical harm or hostage-taking of seafarers, smuggling of migrants and illicit substances, and disruptions to commerce and navigation. Pirate attacks can have widespread ramifications, including preventing humanitarian assistance and increasing the costs of future shipments to the affected areas.

UNODC supports Member States to conduct legal reform regarding piracy and maritime crime, train law enforcement agents, and train prosecutors and judges to prepare for maritime crime prosecutions in accordance with the rule of law. UNODC has embedded a human rights approach in its work ensuring that police and coast guard interventions, including arrests, are carried out in line with international minimum standards. Through the provision of interpreters at all stages, where necessary, and the legal aid provided before court, UNODC is ensuring the rights of the accused are upheld. UNODC also advocates for and facilitates the repatriation of Somali pirates convicted abroad to their home country as this allows them to maintain closer ties to their families. UNODC is also providing vocational training in prison settings to facilitate the reintegration of released prisoners into society. Special consideration is given to female and juvenile offenders or prison inmates. UNODC also considers human rights aspects in all its legislative work and is finalizing a training manual for criminal justice practitioners on maritime crime which includes a dedicated chapter on the application of human rights at sea. 

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Cybercrime is an ever-evolving form of transnational crime which can seriously impinge on the enjoyment of human rights, including the rights to privacy and security.  Despite its many benefits, the internet is also used for criminal activities, including the sexual exploitation of children, online fraud and money-laundering. These crimes are very complex as they take place in the borderless realm of cyberspace. Organized criminal groups take advantage of this and become increasingly involved in this type of crime. When doing so they have no regard for human rights.

UNODC works to prevent and combat cybercrime in a holistic manner by training national law enforcement authorities, within a strong human-rights framework, in the areas of cybercrime investigations, digital forensics and the use of electronic evidence, as well as by cooperating with key anti-cybercrime players at the international level. The Global Programme on Cybercrime helps Member States to protect the human rights of victims, suspects and perpetrators in line with the universality of these rights.

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Illicit production and trafficking of drugs

Illicit production and trafficking of controlled drugs damage communities, undermine security and impede development. UNODC's efforts in this area are crucial to protecting the rights to security, health, food and to a clean and healthy environment.

Guided by the three international drug control conventions and the UNGASS 2016 outcome document, UNODC promotes drug control policies that are human rights-based and address the root causes of the world drug problem as well as its socioeconomic consequences. The Office supports Member States' efforts to offer farmers to move away from illicitly cultivating drug crops by providing economically viable, licit alternatives to growing the coca bush, opium poppy or cannabis plant. In this context, UNODC emphasizes environmental protection and improves access to local and international markets for alternative development products. These measures not only aim to reduce the illicit cultivation of drug crops but also to reduce poverty, food insecurity and environmental harm.

As regards drug trafficking, UNODC builds the capacity of law enforcement agents, including border officers, to detect and seize illicitly trafficked drugs and their precursors, and strengthens the ability of Member States to prevent and provide effective and proportionate responses to drug-related crimes. UNODC programmes have developed standardised human rights modules to enhance the understanding of the applicability of human rights to the work of law enforcement agencies.

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Corruption and money-laundering

Corruption undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish. Billions of dollars are lost to corruption when they are urgently needed for health care, education, clean water and infrastructure, affecting the availability and people's access to basic rights and services.

By tackling corruption, UNODC promotes the rule of law, a key component of which is the promotion of human rights. The United Nations is taking action through the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which contains strong measures to boost integrity within both the public and private sectors. It also incorporates human rights principles through several of its provisions and includes specific safeguards for human rights such as the right to a fair trial and due process safeguards in administrative and criminal proceedings. In the context of the mechanism for reviewing the implementation of the UNCAC, these provisions are examined through a peer review process. UNODC is also working closely with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) to improve awareness of the impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights.

In addition, UNODC supports Member States to implement measures against money-laundering and the financing of terrorism, assisting them in detecting, seizing and confiscating illicit proceeds and ultimately ensuring that stolen assets are returned to the countries of origin.

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Terrorism has a very real and direct impact on human rights, with devastating consequences for the enjoyment of the right to life, liberty and physical integrity of victims. It also corrodes democracy and the rule of law. The Office provides assistance to Member States for implementing the international legal instruments against terrorism and thereby protecting their populations against acts of terrorism, as well as for ensuring victims of terrorism have access to support and justice. At the same time, the UN's Global Counterterrorism Strategy recognizes that human rights violations undermine the fight against terrorism. UNODC assists Member States to strengthen the capacity of the national criminal justice systems to investigate and try terrorism offences in compliance with the rule of law and human rights. 

As part of its efforts to integrate human rights training into its technical assistance, UNODC has developed, in cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a training module on Human Rights and Criminal Justice Responses to Terrorism as part of its Counter-Terrorism Legal Training Curriculum. This training tool, used in capacity-building for judges and prosecutors, law enforcement and policy makers, aims to strengthen the capacity of national authorities to respect human rights in the criminalization of terrorism- related offences, in the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of terrorism offences, in the detention and punishment of terrorism suspects and convicts, and in international cooperation in countering terrorism. Moreover, UNODC provides assistance to Member States on the treatment of children recruited and exploited by terrorist and violent extremist groups, as well as on gender dimensions of criminal justice responses to terrorism, with a strong focus on human rights.

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[1] Global Study on Smuggling of Migrants, 2018, p.9